MU approves continued use of live pigs for medical training despite protests

Current training includes cutting into live pigs to practice procedural skills in the emergency room.

This article has been updated with additional information about the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

This article has been updated with additional information about the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

The MU School of Medicine will continue to use live pigs with training emergency room doctors, despite protests.

Around two dozen activists and retired physician Kerry Foley gathered outside the MU School of Medicine on Nov. 16 to urge the school to end its use of live pigs for procedural training in its emergency medicine residency program.

The school currently uses simulators in the Russell D. and Mary B. Shelden Clinical Simulation Center for much of the emergency medicine training, spokeswoman for MU Health Care Jennifer Coffman said. The exception comes about six times a year, according to Coffman, when certain procedures cannot be represented through simulation.

Coffman said the emergency medicine program’s animal use protocol requires renewal every three years by the university’s Animal Care and Use Committee.

Foley also volunteers with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, an advocacy group that lists transitioning from research models that use animals to more human relevant methods as one of their main priorities.

Foley said that she and the other activists hoped to convince the emergency medicine department to let its animal use protocol approval expire next month rather than renew and instead focus on simulators for training.

A recent study conducted by PCRM found that 92 percent of the 211 surveyed medical programs in the U.S. and Canada rely solely on human-relevant methods, such as simulators and profused cadavers, while MU remains one of the 16 surveyed that still use live animals.

“In this day and age, there’s really no reason to be using animal models when there are incredibly sophisticated simulators now,” Foley said.

As a retired doctor who worked in emergency and trauma centers for about 25 years, Foley said she is aware of the procedures emergency medicine students are learning, and she said she firmly believes they can be done on simulators. As a medical student at Georgetown University, Foley said she never practiced on live animals.

“It’s been said by various clinicians that the anatomy of a pig is not true to human anatomy,” Foley said. “The trachea is deeper in the neck and the skin is a lot thicker, so the experience that the residents are getting during these procedures is not identical to what it would be if they were using a [simulator] … Pigs have more ribs than humans do — the anatomy is all off.”

With the new and advanced technology for training purposes, Foley said using live animals is no longer the standard or the ideal way to be training young doctors.

“I think personally it’s demoralizing,” Foley said. “Imagine being in a lab and being handed a squirmy, adorable baby pig, and you’re now in charge of anesthetizing it and cutting into it. These animals are … slaughtered at the end of the procedure … I think it’s demoralizing for these students who have signed up to become healers to be doing that kind of activity.”

St. Louis resident Sasha Zemmel, an organizer with various activist groups pertaining to animal rights, was personally contacted by PCMR and asked to help organize the demonstration.

“When I heard the numbers that 92 percent of hospitals already have changed [to not using animals], and we’re in the small 8 percent that haven’t, it’s just like, ‘Come on,’” Zemmel said. “So it’s important to be here, and hopefully we create change.”

Zemmel thinks it would further MU’s reputation as a university and help it become a role model for other programs still using animals for training to fully transition to simulators.

“Mizzou: everyone sees the ‘M’ and everyone knows Missouri is known for Mizzou’s football team and it’s an awesome school,” Zemmel said. “So I would just love to be known for, ‘Hey, Mizzou has modernized their training — no more live testing.’”

It was not made clear by Coffman which techniques the current simulators lack and when they might be updated. However, Coffman said the animal use protocol was reviewed and renewed by the committee on Nov. 3 and will not expire again until Nov. 3, 2020.

Edited by Sarah Hallam | shallam@themaneater.com

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